Hobbies we have had before

Once upon a time, before I had children, I thought I was busy. I barely had time to watch every baseball game, garden, read books, play video games and do my hobbies. Horrifying! One of my favorite hobbies was making cards.

I’ve always loved writing letters. My correspondence in high school especially was diverse and frequent. I went through stationery at a bulk rate – or would have if it wasn’t my favorite indulgence. I still know where and when and why I got nearly every single piece of stationery in my rather considerable stationery box. After I graduated college and had room and money, I got started in on rubber stamping, which was a thing in the oughts. My expanded resources vastly expanded my rubber stamp (and ink and paper) collection and my skills went from rudimentary to nearly mediocre – where they topped out and remained.

Same desk, pre babies. Where did that awesome Tolkien poster go?

Then I had kids and got a harder job and went onto the session of my church and… well, I think practically every post for the last several months has whined about how busy I am. I got really busy, and rarely had time to stamp anything. Then when my beloved, cold attic retreat was transformed into my glorious, warm and amazing bathroom I packed up all my stamps for the duration of the project into our storage facility and had to content myself with purchased stationery. (Not that I even used that much of that!)

But oh glory! Today we actually cleared out from and vacated our storage unit (I think it may be a first: someone claiming a storage unit would only be temporary and having it only be temporary.) And I got my stamps back. I spent a happy afternoon reintroducing myself to my rather vast collection and setting up my favorite desk and getting ready. And now – bliss! – I have time to spend doing something I feel like doing, and I have my stamps which are exactly what I feel like doing.

Being me, I thought it would be fun to do this together, you and I. OK, basically I narrate a lot of stuff in my head to you, especially when I’m alone. This is how extroverts end up with quiet hobbies.

Step 1: Who should I make a card for?
My grandmother is dead. She was always my best correspondent. I’ve thought a lot of her this week with the fires and unbreathable air in California. I keep forgetting that she’s now beyond all worry. She’s also beyond any card I might send her. I’d be nervous about doing a birthday card for someone because there’s like no way in God’s green earth I’d ever remember to do it again, so I’m careful of the precendents I am setting. So that leaves special events. Two come to mind: a neighbor just had a baby. (OK, like a month ago, but they’ll understand). And I’ll be a guest at Thanksgiving at the excellent table of a fellow stamp-lover. My stamp collections are particularly strong in the “Fall/Thanksgiving/Turkey” and “baby” genres. I’ve always loved the iconography of the former, and I bought many of my stamps while I myself was pregnant. Let’s start with the baby and see how far we get.

Some of my better baby stamps

Step 2: Selecting a stamp
This takes a while. My stamps are tightly stored, which means not amazingly organized. And sometimes you find a stamp in one set that works perfectly for what you want – even if you wouldn’t have thought of it. I usually go through every single stamp I own, finally settling on the one I was thinking of in the first place. This particular baby is little and sweet, and his parents are understandably ga-ga for them. It’s a first. And I wanted something that showed both parents, not just the mom. Finally, the father of this family loves puns. That settles me on the stamp set that concludes with “Congratulations to you and your Somebunny new!”

Step 3: Paper and ink colors
For reasons that totally escape me, this baby doesn’t seem like a pastel-y baby. Looking at the stamp, I’m inspired by the thought of browns and tans. I might do a little watercolor pencil – my absolute favorite stamping technique – on this stamp. Now to look through every piece of paper in my vast collection to likely discover I do not actually own the color I’m envisioning.

Paper and stamps

I have a strong tendency towards bold, bright colors. Some of my favorite cards have ended up in a panoply of color. I remember one year where a friend’s parents invited us to their (DELICIOUS) Thanksgiving table two years in a row. I stamped a card both times as a hostess appreciation. When I gave her the card on the second year she opened it, her face lit up, and she ran away. She returned a few minutes later with the card I’d given her the prior year which she had still pinned up. It was totally different, but used the same stamp. I was caught between mortification (is that like wearing the same dress both times?) and pleasure that she’d enjoyed the card! Both of those cards were *bright*. But happily, it turns out I do have a good number of earth toned papers in the reams I have. I’m going to go with a light tan for the actual card, then use darker brown and patterned paper to make a lighter section with the stamp in in really pop. Time to cut some paper!

Step 4: Cutting

Oh no! My handy dandy trusty rotary cutter isn’t cutting! I wonder if the blades need to be replaced every 20 years or something. Fortunately, I have n+1 paper cutters. This one isn’t nearly as good, but it’ll do.

N+1 Cutters – Leroy was here courtesy of Grey, who probably learned it from Fallout

Drat! The patterned paper doesn’t look like with my first brown. So I try a different brown and it still looks wrong. Gah! So now I have two identically sized pieces of different brown papers. I experiment with layouts and decide I actually like the two browns slightly tiled and will ditch the patterned one altogether. This is a normal part of the process. I admire people who can do this by planning instead of trial, error and the massacre of forests. Still, lesson #1 of this kind of thing is don’t make any permanent decisions until you have all your parts ready. A reject now might actually still end up in the final project.

Nice try. Didn’t work.

I have a large scrap drawer, in which is some nice cream watercolor paper. I cut a piece of that for the actual bunny stamp.

Step 5: Inking

I wonder if I have a brown ink that will match. Hmmmm. If I want to watercolor the stamp, it must be a dye ink (not pigment) too. I have one that I think will do, but all my stamp pads are old and it’s possible they’ve dried out. Guess I’ll find out… but probably starting on my blotter.

Original stamp in the middle

Well, they both ink. But the top color, which I like better, looks pretty dry. Contemplating this conundrum I give it a spritz with my stamp cleaner to hydrate. Great news! It works! I carefully position the stamp over the watercolor paper and get the impression decently centered the first time. Winning! At this stage, we enter the “how much is too much” phase. I like the simplicity of the card so far, but I do really like watercolor paints. What about just a little blue on the edge of the blanket and pink in the ears? Because I’m thinking “out loud” I make an unusually sage decision to try it out on the version on my blotter before the version on the watercolor paper.

Many baby bunnies

I like it pretty well on the blotter. Let’s see how it does on the actual stock.

Great. It looks good. Now I’ll do the inside and back of the card while the water dries.

Step 6: Inside & back – aka where you mess up because you think you’ve finished the hard part
I have a “Created by Brenda” stamp I almost always use, because it’s annoying when you spend an hour on a card and have people think that due to the craftsmanship you bought it in the discount bin at an elementary school craft fair. Unfortunately, this stamp is slightly off center, so I have trouble getting it aligned perfectly. That’s why I start with it. I have two pieces of card stock the right shape for this card. I’d rather find out now that I’ll need to use the other one! I’ll use the same color ink throughout the card.

Somebunny new

Woo! Both internal stamps came out just fine. I notice that the ink I used is bleeding a little on the stamp – that’s not supposed to happen with the dye inks. It’s probably due to my “refreshment” of the pad. I decide to pretend I think it looks artistic.

Step 7: Sticking it all together
I was mystified for a long time about how this all was supposed to stick together. I used glue sticks or spray adhesive, which were messy, smelly and didn’t actually work. What does work? Double sided tape. When I’m stamping I go through yards of this stuff. Time to start making things permanent.

All done!

There! It’s done! It looks almost as nice as a card you could get in 20 seconds in a drug store! Victory is mine!

Now that’s all to be done is to write a nice note and strategically with-hold publication of this blog until after I deliver it.

Oh, and clean up this mess. Oh, and where are my invitation sized envelopes… and what color pen do I have that will go with this card…

PS – one particularly insane year, I hand stamped all my Christmas cards. That would be lunatic enough – but I made each on *unique* which is a degree of lunacy even I have never reattempted. But I do have a lot of Christmas stamps….

Backpacking: the Next Generation

Ready to hit the trail

As we flew into Seattle, the tip of Mt. Baker to the right pierced snowy and pristine through a sludge of atmosphere – a few pristine looking glacier piercing through air that was brown and grimy and disgusting. I’d left Boston weather in the 90s looking forward to the break the Northwest would surely give me, only to land in 95 degree dry heat in Seatac. Wednesday was a blur as all the Camp Grampers arrived, we fed everyone, we stopped to pick up some gear, and then the minute I’d finished the 8 hour journey to Mineral I hopped back in my mom’s car to head up the mountain to Longmire.

Longmire in the heat

It’s a remarkable feeling, to have woken up in Boston and yet found yourself staring up the great rift of Longmire Valley, past Rampart Ridges to the Tahoma glacier. When I walked into the ranger station to get my permit, apparently my face transmitted my depth of feeling. “Are you ok?” asked the ranger?

Back in January, I came up with this scheme. For the first time in what feels like ever, I have a little more vacation than Adam does – 3.5 weeks this year and headed to a full 4 weeks next year. Woooo! And every summer there are three main vacation options: go international (like last year), go to my folks’ house and head down to Ashland, or go to my folk’s house and go backpacking. It’s been many long years since that last option was selected. This year, Adam really wanted to go to Ashland again. But I wanted to go backpacking. Then I had a genius idea – I’d go ahead of time without Adam and go backpacking without him. So I reached out to a guide group and signed up for a guided tour – since backpacking alone is dumb and not ok. Bliss!

In June, I got word from the company that no one else signed up for the tour. Cancelled. AAAAAGH! I came up with plans B, C & D, none of which panned out. So here I was, weeks before the trip, with no plan E. My gaze strayed over at my preternaturally tall 12 year old son. You know, the one who was the right size to carry a pack. And who was the same age I was when I first went backpacking. Hmmm…. I carefully felt him out on the topic “Man, I bet you wish you were a big strong adult who could go backpacking like me!” And … he bit! He said he’d be willing to come with me! Usually willingness to hike with me is a sure sign you’ve never hiked with me before (ask Erin) but then and there we arrived at plan E. Ha!

I was careful selecting my route. My natural inclination is to pick my favorite campsites that are available and hike between them, elevation and distance be darned. Many’s the deathmarch I’ve planned for myself. But I wanted to lure Grey in more slowly – maybe even get him to like this without the use of post-hike hypnotic techniques. So colluding with the Ranger, we picked a very scenic, very satisfying, pretty short trip. We’d spend two nights (so the plan went) at Upper Crystal Lake Campground – a pretty, alpine spot only 3 miles off the road – a dead end with two campsites. Then on the second day, we’d day hike out, and hike out the third day.

My way back I meandered – using the last light of the preternaturally long day to walk the trail of shadows and breathe the fragrance of firs. I noted with some unease just how haze-obscured Mt. Rainier was, even from the depths of the park, by the smoke. But hey, it beat the heck out of rain, right?

The next morning Grey and I set out at the crack of noon from the trailhead. His first discovery was how amazing water tastes when pulled fresh from a mountain stream, as we refreshed the water we’d brought with us. And oh, it does taste so very good.

Traditional trailhead photo

We were about a mile up the trail (and by up I mean *UP*) when I realized that my carefully procured, conscientiously updated permit was, uh, back down in the car. I ditched my kid and my backpack and headed back down. And then back up again. Did I mention it was 95 degrees? There was a little bit of observational despair when my son learned that we were taking switchbacks ALL the way up the mountain (I’ve gotten smarter in my old age and no longer point out the distant high peak where I suspect we’ll be stopping), but we got past that and the conversation flowed.

And my, Upper Crystal Lake is a beautiful, beautiful place.

Near where we got our water

We set up camp. We napped. We read our books. We made dinner. (Hiking with a 12 year old sure changes how much food you go through a day!) He taught me how to play spit and Texas Hold’em. I proceeded to get two straight royal flushes and completely wipe him out of hard candy not once, but twice. We fell asleep that night, rain fly off our tent, gazing up at the stars. Before I took my glasses off and roll over, I got to see our tent overflown by the long, silent wings of an owl.

The second morning dawned just as hot. It had cooled off somewhat over night, but we hadn’t slept so much well as long and by the time the sun cleared the mountain walls, the temperature was rising again. There was little shade in the valley, and much bugs. I’d cultivated a blister. And the news from the boots making their way up the valley was that while the mountain – not 20 miles away from us – was currently entirely covered by haze, a cooling, cleansing rain was on its way to the mountains the next day. I prefer to experience my cooling, cleansing rains from indoors, when possible.

It looked like an infinity lake

We took a walk around the lake proper, stopping as is traditional every five minutes to take another picture.

I saw no fish to eat the plentiful bugs

Then we broke up camp and headed back down. And as we got to the bottom, Grey insisted we fill up from that self-same delicious stream to take the water home with us – a precious commodity. And I knew that I’d hooked him.

Backpacking buddy – getting the coldest, fastest water from a mountain stream

You can see all my pictures here!

Destroying your house for fun and profit

So the attic project has begun in earnest. It’s a very strange feeling when you leave the house with your attic entirely habitable – the way it was when I first started writing the offer in my head as I walked up those attic stairs for the first time. Then when you come back, the dumpster is half full and the rooms are, in fact, no longer habitable.

Every week night since April 5th we’ve gone up to our attic to watch the progress of the demolition. Walls have come down. Ceilings. Floors have been uncovered and removed. New doors, hidden behind drywall and paint, have been exposed halfway through narrow crawl-spaces. The weird & alien corpse of a HAM radio antenna peaked out from between eaves. Long-hidden girlie mags from the ’50s have seen the light of day for the first time in sixty years. Mysteriously, an abandoned nest was found shocking far into the infrastucture of the house – next to the only inadequate heat vent on the floor.

Having the work done on the third floor has been nice in that it’s not too disruptive to daily life. Other than the gigantic dumpster in the driveway (the envy of the neighborhood), there’s little impact on the rest of the house. The poor cats are getting to spend quality time in the basement during the day. (I feel heartless, moving them from their optimally warm and cushy day time nap locations to the cold cold basement.)

Adam and I have done much of the work to prepare. The selection of tiles feels like a great personal accomplishment. I am granted many gifts in life – taste is not primary among them.

I’m extremely proud of myself that for ONCE I did a good job of taking “before” pictures of the project – possibly due to the 3 or so months that it would be starting “soon”. If you’d like to follow the photographic progress of the project, keep your eyes on this album!

Parenting without kids

Ready to go!

On Saturday, I drove the familiar route to Logan airport. I go there all the time. I pick up visitors. I travel for work, or for fun. It’s a rare month that I don’t mentally try to figure out whether I want arrivals or departures. (Well, I’m arriving at the airport, but departing later, and oh I’m parking and is it Terminal B?) This time, though, I had Thane with me. And only one suitcase. We did all the line-standing together, and all too soon he was heading down the gangway with a veritable pack of unaccompanied minors. I sat in the warm sun with a collection of other parents sending their kids to Seattle for the April vacation week, talking about parenting, the difference between Seattle & Boston, and the independence of our children.

My gigantic eldest son

I did not leave the airport after the last glint of wing had fled the glooming sky. I stood unmoored in the center of the vast high ceilings of Concourse D – eyes on the escalators. Not much later, Adam and Grey showed up. Grey is getting so old and tall and big. He was not much for sentimentality in the eyes of the watching public, so a quick hug later I went to retrieve my car. I came home to an empty house and strapped on my shoes for a run before the weather turned bitter. (Good news – I ran the whole way. Bad news – my pace is terrible. Unsurprising news – my legs are SO SORE today!)

Adam came home not long after, and we cleaned the house, marveling that it might actually _stay clean_ for a WHOLE WEEK! The kids are off with different grandparents (Thane is with my folks, Grey is with Adam’s mom) for the April vacation week, and we are… on our own.

I write great blog posts in my head while I run. The success rate of actually getting them down on paper is rather less than 100% though. During that run, I thought about how hard it is to know whether you’re doing a good job parenting. So much of who and how your kids are is up to them. That gets even more true the older they grow. I found myself wishing that we were as thoughtful and organized about setting goals and seeing if we were meeting them in parenting as we are in, say, work. What would my objectives for parenting look like right now? Long term? How would my performance be rated?

One of my greatest objectives as a parent is to raise children who do not need me (but hopefully will still want me around). I want children fitted to earn their livings, of good integrity, with wide skills and self-sufficiency. I want to raise children who see clearly what it is that needs to be done, and have the insight, strength and knowledge to do it. Tragically, the way to accomplish this as a parent is not to “try harder” but to be wiser about what you say and do. I’m working on that. It made me feel hopeful, watching my sons courageously venture off alone, that a good start has been made.

Lucky to be married to this handsome guy!

There are many advantages to this April break scheme, but one of the excellent ones is that it gives Adam and I time to be together. You know, like a pair of people who married each other because they dig spending time together! Last night, we celebrated by going out to a “fancy fancy” restaurant – the Meritage in Boston. We got ready in a leisurely and unhurried way. We didn’t worry about what time to get home. It was crazy!

This was food. It was delicious.

Today, I confess to playing hookie from church. Sorry! Adam brought me coffee & the paper in bed, and we looked through all the things that were happening to see what we wanted to do. We began with brunch at a local diner. (Named, inventively, “My Diner“.) It played a lovely contrast to our fancy dinner last night. (Don’t judge all the eating out this week – it’s effectively “half priced restaurant week” for us.)

Possibly my favorite of the Eschers, showing none of his trademarks

Then we drove in to Boston to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the MC Escher exhibit and Phantasmorgia display. We read every word on every display piece in three different exhibits (we also checked out the revival jewelry exhibit). We LOVE going to museums together, but it’s a hard thing to do while contending with different attention spans. This lingering was a great pleasure.

Almost as great as watching Adam eat a pickled grape, which was a study in expressions.

He made this face every time he ate one
I got video for another grape
Profile pic, right here
Despite this face, he ate them all

We have similar plans for the rest of the week. Maybe some board games with friends. Checking out the new restaurant in town. Staying in Cambridge. Craziness!

I am coming to think, though, that as nice as this is as a vacation I already miss my little boys and the energy and vibrance they bring to our lives. We are all the better for practicing our independence. But I’m so glad that there are years yet before they leave me. I miss my sons!

My boys